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Inside Tract - Women Treating Women

Inside Tract Summer 2010

Women Treating Women

Date: August 31, 2010

Integrative and Digestive Health Center staff
Linda Lee (fourth from right) and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins’ Integrative Medicine and Digestive Health Center offer patients a unique treatment perspective.

It’s why, nationwide, hospitals clamor to recruit the best and brightest minority medical and nursing students and why some physicians have been taking a hard look at the role of religion and spirituality when caring for patients with strong belief systems.

And, because women often prove most at risk for digestive diseases and disorders, it’s why the Johns Hopkins Division of Gastroenterology has made a concerted effort in recent years to bulk up the number of women on its faculty.

Research has shown that many patients—both men and women—prefer women physicians for treatment in sensitive areas, such as urology and gastroenterology. But, dominating any other reason for having a sound roster of women gastroenterologists is this: Certain diseases and conditions—particularly in gastroenterology—simply are more likely to affect women.

“In the past,” says gastroenterologist Linda Lee, director of the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Health Center, “people generally thought about women’s health in terms of the uterus, breasts and ovaries. But women do have health concerns aside from their reproductive systems.”

Irritable bowel syndrome affects twice as many women as men, and gastroparesis, constipation and assorted autoimmune diseases are also more likely to befall a woman. “We know for certain,” she says, “that some diseases affect more women than men, and women have particular needs because of that.”

Women are also more likely to be open-minded in their approach to health care, she says, including being more willing to incorporate alternative therapies such as acupuncture or biofeedback into their medical care plan.

“Many women want to be educated about their diseases and how they can better manage them,” Lee says. “They’re also very concerned about medication side effects, and many want to use a more natural approach. At our Digestive Health Center, we bring a more holistic approach to the needs of women.”

Although Lee says most patients, men or women, opt for the physician they believe is best equipped to treat them, regardless of gender, in some cases women are simply more comfortable discussing certain things with another woman.

“For people with inflammatory bowel disease, it might be very appealing to see a female provider, because some people develop very sensitive symptoms, such as perineal fistulas,” she says.

Or, if a woman has Crohn’s disease, but hopes to have children, there could be issues regarding pregnancy that another woman—who may be a mother herself—can relate to, anticipate and empathize with.

“Having so many women with this kind of expertise offers a unique perspective for our patients,” Lee says.  “It’s important to have that kind of diversity, because our patients are diverse and they need that choice.”

All bases covered
No matter what the GI disease or its care, there’s a woman physician at Johns Hopkins who specializes in it:

  • Mimi Canto: familial pancreatic cancer, Barrett’s esophagus, endoscopic ultrasonography, therapeutic endoscopy, endoscopic mucosal resection and ablation
  • Sharon Dudley-Brown: inflammatory bowel disease
  • Kerry Dunbar: obesity, gastrointestinal malignancies, Barrett’s esophagus, GERD, eosinophilic esophagitis, confocal endomicroscopy, narrow band imaging, chromoendoscopy
  • Kimberly Gudzune: obesity and related conditions, weight loss
  • Christina Ha: inflammatory bowel disease
  • Linda Lee: integrative medicine, gastroparesis, inflammatory bowel disease
  • Anne Marie Lennon: pancreatic disease, interventional endoscopy, endoscopic ultrasonography, therapeutic endoscopy
  • Eun Ji Shin: endoscopic ultrasonography, therapeutic endoscopy, obesity
  • Ellen Stein: motility disorders